Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Jamaica and its place at global table

Published:Sunday | April 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnthony Hill

The Summit of the Americas meeting immediately following President Obama's official visit offers the opportunity for some thoughts on critical issues facing Jamaica now and the not-so-far future.

The agendas and briefing papers have already been prepared as is customary. But here are some observations that fall somewhere in the Vision 2030 of "Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work and raise families and do business" and the theme of the summit, 'Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas'.

The United States is faced with many pressing geopolitical issues not made any easier by the roiling nature of its domestic politics. Jamaica is faced with the self-imposed imperative of tight fiscal management fleshed out by a number of IMF conditionalities, some of which stem from UN Security Council resolutions.

Now is neither the time nor the occasion for business-as-usual pleasantries and rote policy formulations. Above all, it is not the time for 'small and vulnerable' special pleading.

Within the few paragraphs available, here are four overriding but not exclusive issues of national security interest to both Jamaica and the United States.

President Obama, while on a last lap, so to speak, still has formidable resources at his disposal to move these issues to a less uncomfortable place.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller is gearing up to enter another round of democracy legitimation at the polls.

Setting the context will be the reiteration of the strong and unbreakable bonds of friendship, even kinship, with America. The diasporas of both countries move easily across borders. Generations work, play and grow old together, and Jamaica's ageing population adds another challenge.

The president, drawing on an institutionalised memory, will be reminded that 53 years ago, Premier Bustamante (a few months before becoming prime minister of independent Jamaica on August 6, 1962) paid an official visit to President Kennedy at the White House. Edward Seaga, as minister of development and welfare, briefed President Kennedy, inter alia, on his 10-year Development Plan. Mr Seaga would later become prime minister to further develop the cooperation with the US under President Reagan.

It may bring wry smiles that the President Obama's birthday of August 4, 1961 was almost on the anniversary of Jamaica's Independence and that he was a toddler when Premier Bustamante confirmed Jamaica as firmly in and of the West. Other affirmations of relevance will be noted, such as the US financed and built Vernamfield.

On the occasion of that 1962 meeting, Cuban cigars and Jamaica's matching capabilities provided light background to the several development economic issues raised, including expansion of Kingston Harbour, quota protection for Jamaican sugar and labour, and the need for foreign capital investments.

The topics discussed display many of the same characteristics of the contemporary Jamaican socio-economy. Alas, a testimony to the structural inertia that has held the economy in a grip. Yet as the Yellow Pages attest, Jamaica's transformation has been dramatic, bringing hundreds of thousands of formerly rural peasantry into the vibrant modernity of urban commerce and entrepreneurial endeavours.

Starting with the political and moving fairly briskly on - Jamaica chairs the United Nations (UN) Committee on Reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC). It is undemocratic in its selection process and its decision-making. Some of our partners are for structural reform. Others not, including the US and its North Atlantic partners of the veto-wielding P3.

China has its concerns as to its regional representation. But given the power and reach of its decisions, Jamaica and CARICOM have an interest, especially as the UNSC decisions mandate domestic application by law. Sanctions and the discretionary application having force of law impinges on the economic options of countries not party to the disputes.

That only an exchange of views is the most to be expected does not diminish the gravity of the universal international community's interest of peace, good order and justice.

Nevertheless, it is an important reminder that Jamaica, working through Foreign Minister Hugh Shearer (later prime minister) and his diplomatic representatives led by Sir Egerton Richardson, brought human rights back centre stage in the UN, undertaken in collaboration with the US and others in the region.

partnering for shared prosperity

Venezuela and Cuba, members of the Caribbean basin and constructive partners in functional cooperation and economic partnerships, will be discussed. In the spirit of the hemispheric dispensation to cooperation and finding ways (what Secretary Kerry calls the 'how') to partner for shared prosperity, the views and experience will be constructive in amelioration and pushing comity between the parties.

Haiti should be as much a priority concern for Jamaica, not only for its own sake, but also as a member of the Caribbean Community. Haiti should not be left languishing as an 'orphan' under a kind of UN trusteeship. The situation demands a decisive dÈmarche by CARICOM.

President Obama should be commended for replacing the early 19th-Century Monroe Doctrine and instead emphasising his vision of a region of "equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering ... to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share". Democratic governance is central to our common vision.

The changing climate of Earth's biosphere, its impacts on the ecosystems of water and socio-economic livelihoods and lifestyles, and its organic relationship to the use of fossil fuels will be top of the action agenda. Fossil-fuel combustion has driven the industrial revolution and now the information technology revolution. Their insatiable appetites for energy and their negative externalities (the social costs borne by society at large) have put a strain on Earth's carrying capacity.

President Obama's Climate Action Plan, the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, and the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative programme purposefully pursued will prepare the region to make tangible commitments and so make the Climate Change Conference in Paris (December 2015) a high point in reining in carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This requires a degree of specificity from each country.

Extreme weather effects have cost Jamaica more than US$2 billion since 1988. The effects on health, life, property and lost productive resources, along with the difficulties in recovering, places Jamaica high on the list of countries prone to disaster and its consequent drag on growth and development. The several studies, including by the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and others, codify the risks and costs with very high probability of worsening because of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

energy and climate programmes

Jamaica and CARICOM have several energy and climate programmes but they need to be scaled up and given greater coherence, including those offered through bilateral and regional cooperation.

Jamaica's ageing population has put a strain on the already tight budget for services to the elderly, especially given the transition of the health profile from communicable to non-communicable disease. Yet, as the recent chikungunya outbreak testifies, the public-health system is at best fragile.

Education holds a high place on the Summit of the Americas agenda and the personal initiatives of 100,000 Strong in the Americas and the 'Scholarships for Education and Economic Development' should be supported strongly as complementing Jamaica's education reform programme, including that of science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

Policies that rely on the overseas seasonal migrant workers' programme and the steady migrating stream of trained pools of labour, not matched by job opportunities at home, will not lead to prosperity.

Foreign capital, expertise and technology are indispensable in the development process. Over-reliance on these without flanking policies of appropriate regulation has led to quite unfavourable outflows of surpluses from these investments and thus a negative international investment position.

At the same time, the evidence gathered by the US and its NGO bodies indicates significant financial outflows sometimes referred to as illicit financial flows, those not passing through official channels. For the period 2003-2012, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), in its latest report, estimates for Jamaica outflows totalling US$3.65 billion for an annual average of US$365 million.

In assessing Jamaica's case for bilateral aid, the US agencies, the official development agencies of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, as also the G20, take note of these developments. From their data, "in Jamaica, there were 2,548 projects financed by the Official Development Assistance (ODA) between 2000-2012, of which US$362 million was spent and US$1,391,499,301 were committed. In the list of ODA recipients, in the last 12 years, Jamaica has ranked 116 of a total of 154."

Jamaica faces an absorption, implementation and retention problem, which, if not corrected speedily, are guarantees for continued inertia at the very least.

The mandates and national reports, including Jamaica's, to the SOA list scores of programmes. All deserve attention. But mention of another of the president's initiatives requires positive support and participation by Jamaica and CARICOM. It is the Open Government Partnership for attaining the "strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and in open governments".

- Anthony Hill served as minister counsellor, deputy to ambassador of Jamaica to US, 1973-75; high commissioner to Canada 1975-1978; and permanent secretary in the Office of Prime Minister, in the 1990s. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kgahill@gmail.com.